RECEIVING INFORMATION from District government - and passing it on to citizens - is a major task of local Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. But the job has almost always bogged down because city hall either doesn't provide information, or doesn't do it in a timely manner. So it was no surprise to learn that members of two ANCs in Ward 3 sued the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board because they felt the board didn't give proper notice about reissuing a liquor license to a Connecticut Avenue restaurant. What did come as a surprise, and a pleasant one at that, is the resolution of the case in favor of the ANCs - adding considerable strength to the role of the commissions in local government.
The ruling by the D.C. Court of Appeals had several interesting points. Local agencies, for example, must give ANCs 30-days' notice before holding a public hearing on matters that relate to a particular ANC area. The court also ruled that all agencies, including independent ones such as the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, the Zoning Commission or the Board of Zoning Appeals are required to answer - in detail - specific questions put to it by the ANCs. And the court said that even though the ANCs - as an organization - may not bring suit in court, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners or other residents of the area may.
The Court of Appeals sent the restaurant case back to the ABC board for a rehearing. But the court's decision goes beyond the fortunes of that one restaurant. It outlines the way ANCs may operate in the city - and the way local government must respond to them. It also makes ANC effectiveness even more dependent on the involvement of local residents. It has been all too easy - though often correct - to blame local government for the inadequacy of ANC efforts. Now it will be up to residents to get the ANCs to operate in the manner of the court's definition. The absence of a big voter turnout in the last ANC election showed that the city does not yet fully support this grass-roots information network. If the recent court decision is to mean anything, residents will have to begin taking it a good deal more seriously.